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Number of TB tests drop by 59% in 2020 amid COVID-19 pandemic

/ 01:45 PM September 14, 2021
The number of TB tests declined by 59% in 2020 as the country grappled with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a DOH official said.

Health Usec. Mario Villaverde during the Senate committee on health and demography’s hearing on bills on tuberculosis programs. Screengrab from Senate of the Philippines Youtube channel

MANILA, Philippines — The number of tuberculosis (TB) tests declined by 59 percent in 2020 as the country grappled with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Department of Health (DOH) official said on Tuesday.

From one million tests conducted  in 2019, Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde said the number dropped to 556,000 in 2020. In 2018, he said, nearly 1.16 million patients were tested for tuberculosis.

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“If you will look at the data, ‘yung number of tested patients for tuberculosis talaga pong bumagsak…” Villaverde said, responding to Senator Nancy Binay’s query during the Senate committee on health and democracy’s hearing on tuberculosis program.

“Sa 2020 po, with the effects now of the COVID, kalahati lang po, 556,000 ang current data natin, latest data ng mga na-test sa tuberculosis,” the health official added.

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(If you look at the data, the number of patients tested for tuberculosis really decreased… In 2020, with the effects of COVID-19, only 556,000 were tested, based on current and latest data.)

According  to Villaverde, among the bottlenecks that led to the low number are health-seeking behavior or the fear of some patients to go to health facilities because of COVID-19, mobilization issues, and reassignment of health workers to COVID response.

With the setbacks and continuing threat of the coronavirus, Binay then questioned how the department handles its TB program amid the pandemic.

In response, Villaverde said that the DOH adopted the National TB Control Program Adaptive Plan to provide doable measures and adjustments to ensure the programs’ sustainability. He added that screening and contact tracing were improved and flexible treatment management like the use of telemedicine was tapped.

He also assured that TB vaccination is continuous as the country also conducts COVID-19 inoculation.

“Tuloy-tuloy po ‘yung ating immunization. Medyo nagkaroon lang ng bottleneck kasi nagsisimula din ‘yung vaccination sa ating COVID-19 pero hindi po itinitigil ‘yung vaccination para sa tuberculosis,” Villaverde mentioned.

(The immunization is ongoing. There has just been a bottleneck because the country also started with the COVID-19 vaccination but, TB vaccination is uninterrupted.)

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Further, Villaverde shared that should the Comprehensive Tuberculosis Elimination Plan Act be enacted into law, a P1.69-billion budget would be allotted for the first year.

RELATED STORIES:

DOH: Lower number of reported TB cases due to COVID-19 pandemic 

TB patients at higher risk for coronavirus, says DOH 

JPV

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